Sometimes events from your past assume a new significance in the light of later experiences. One such event came for me when I was a small boy and it was to prepare me for an encounter I had nearly forty years later. It was in every sense of the word an initiation.
While I was growing up in London in the early sixties my parents bought a house in one of the outlying suburbs. The old Victorian house had been standing derelict for years and my parents, who were not particularly well off, bought it for a knock down price.
It was only after they moved in however that they discovered why it had been going so cheaply. The house was in fact the site of a particularly nasty murder where some years earlier a lodger had killed the previous owner.
It was his attempt to dispose of the body that alerted police after workers on a nearby railway embankment reported that the house was on fire. Police and fire services duly arrived at the scene to find the lodger dismembering a corpse, and trying unsuccessfully to burn it in the basement.
Still, my parents were undaunted by the house’s gruesome past and embarked on renovating the property and renting rooms to students. Meanwhile I ran wild on a nearby building site where partially constructed homes stood alongside houses awaiting demolition and an overgrown orchard waited to make way for new buildings.
For a six-year-old boy it was a real adventure playground full of excitement and a little danger too.
I still remember coming across a group of slightly older boys one day who were pelting a derelict house with apples from the overgrown orchard. It seemed like great fun and I joined in too. Until, from the back door of the house burst a furious, bedraggled old vagrant who charged towards us cursing and waving a stick.
To us boys he looked like a vision from hell and we all fled in terror. But the old tramp wasn’t the only figure waiting to strike fear into a little boy: there were others, less tangible but more ominous still.
During the day my playmates and I ran amok, playing and fighting the way little boys do. But late at night everything changed.
Understandably, my parents hadn’t told me about the house’s history but shortly after we moved in I sensed disturbing undercurrents. I don’t remember exactly when it first began but one night I awoke in the small hours and feeling uneasy got out of bed with the intention of joining my parents.
As I stepped onto to the upper landing, en route to my parent’s bedroom something made me pause and gaze downstairs. Transfixed, I watched as the figure of a man took shape in the darkness below. Seemingly made from the shadows themselves, the figure made its way up the first flight of stairs to the middle landing where it turned and began to ascend, toward me.
As it did so I made up my mind. I was going to prove to whatever it was that I wasn’t scared. So I stood my ground and waited until it was no more than a few feet from me, whereupon I turned and walked – not ran but deliberately walked, because even as a little boy I wanted to master my fear – into my parent’s bedroom where I took refuge in their bed.
With that began a routine that continued the next few years we remained in the house. Every night I awoke in the small hours, got out of bed and stepped onto the landing en route to my parent’s room. From there I watched as the shadowy figure took shape at the foot of the stairs and then climbed them until it was no more than a few feet from me. Whereupon, having felt that I’d proved my point, I turned and took refuge in my parent’s bed.
If an older relative didn’t sleep over and share my bedroom, this happened every night.
Despite my best efforts though I hadn’t ‘proved’ anything to anyone. Because whatever I was confronting was not a conscious entity. Years later in describing these events to a mentor, he described it as a ‘husk’; the imprint that a living being, its thoughts and feelings, leaves behind in the material world.
Like a footprint, it is an impression left in the sub atomic ether that underlies the material fabric of the universe and it is no more conscious that a recorded voice or photo. And like a voice recording or photo, it can survive physical death and play on repeatedly. Just as actors and entertainers long since dead, continue to play on in film and music recordings.
Which may explain what happened next.
Shortly before we finally left the house to begin a new life in the country, I decided to test my nerve still further. Summoning all my courage one night I resolved not too take refuge in my parents bedroom. Instead, I stood my ground and waited as the shadowy figure approached.
Gathering every ounce of courage, I stood fast until it was only inches from me; and then appeared to pass right through me, seeming to disintegrate into thousands of tiny particles as it did so.
My defiance changed nothing however.
Moments later I watched the same shadowy figure take shape in the darkness below and begin to ascend the stairs once again.
Like a broken record, the whole process was repeating itself.
I never told my parents about these experiences until after we moved. But when I did my mother told me how one night when she was cooking the evening meal, she heard what she thought was my father returning early from work. From her vantage point in the back of the kitchen she lent across to look down the hallway and saw what she thought was his shadow ascend the stairs.
It was only when my father actually returned from work an hour later that she realised that the shadow she had seen earlier wasn’t his.
Nearly 40 years passed and I found echoes of those encounters on a visit to Russia, while researching an article on Rasputin.
Peter the Great founded St Petersburg on drained marshland in 1703 and much of it was built by convict labour; many of who died whilst building the so-called Venice of the North – a fact that would have a bearing on my first night there.
St Petersburg 2004
I arrived in St Petersburg late one October afternoon; checked into my hotel, grabbed a bite to eat and then retired to my room to work on my laptop.
However, my first night in the city was to be a memorable one largely because of two visitors to my room.
According to spiritual researcher Rudolph Steiner the spiritual realm has a number of different dimensions or worlds. In much the same way as in this world we have different continents with their own climates, flora and fauna, these varied dimensions each have their own characteristics. One referred to by Steiner as the ethereal realm co-exists with this world and subtly interpenetrates it. Connecting the physical world with the spiritual, it exists on a sub-atomic level between the world of the living and that of the dead.
Because it is composed of sub-atomic particles, the laws that rule the sensual world do not apply to the ethereal realm. Instead, much as the laws of physics govern the physical world, the ether has its own set of governing principles.
Among these is the fact that thoughts and feelings, often vague or indiscernible in this world, assume force and tangibility in the next. So just as hot and cold, light and dark are obvious in this world; the thoughts and feelings of others are readily apparent in the next, often painfully so.
This is one of the reasons why spiritual teachers have emphasised the need to refine and transform one’s emotions and thoughts. Although they can’t be seen physically, our innermost thoughts and feelings can have a profound impact in the next world.
Although most people are oblivious to the ether while in this world – except for a few clairvoyants – the material world is clearly discernable from the ethereal realm.
Its inhabitants, and there are some, are a mixed bunch. Most are in transit, between life and death; but there are those who cannot let go of their emotional attachments to the things of this world and so remain in limbo in the ether. Then there are those who go ‘out of body’; some like this writer, occasionally slip out of the physical world, almost by accident, while this sometimes happens to others while they are under the influence of drugs.
And then there are those who prefer to remain in the ether to avoid facing the consequences of their actions in this world. Often referred to as judgement or karma, this is usually faced when one has completely passed over into the afterlife. However, some choose to avoid it by remaining midway between this world and the next, in the ether.
It was these latter I encountered on my first night in St Petersburg.
Despite a tiring the day I slept fitfully that night and spent much of it drifting on the fringes of sleep. Over the years, I’ve found that while in this state the veil between this world and the next seems to lift a little.
So it was that I sensed the presence of two spirits who, although I could not see them physically, were both very malignant.
I suspect they’d died as convict labourers while building St Petersburg and both had been thugs of the lowest order. Criminals, who in life would have slit someone’s throat for a few pennies and done so without any remorse.
Dimly at first but later very distinctly, I became aware that they were doing all they could to scare me. I sensed their malicious delight as every now and again I felt what seemed like a small electrical charge surge through my body. Or when on the brink of sleep I was suddenly jolted rudely awake by unseen hands.
However, from my experiences as a child I felt that they couldn’t harm me so far from being frightened I just felt tired and irritated.
Finally, as the sun rose they departed and as they did so I could see the spectre of marshland with reeds and wetlands all around – the way the area must have looked before the marshes were drained and St Petersburg was built. And with that I sank gratefully into a few hours of deep dreamless sleep.
That wasn’t to be the end of it however.
Unlike the husk I encountered as a child, my nocturnal visitors were conscious and I suspect, bewildered by the fact that they hadn’t frightened me. They must have told others too, because the following night I had two more uninvited guests who were to all appearances, their superiors.
Whereas my first visitors were simply low-life thugs, the next were from an entirely different league. If there is such a thing as a hierarchy of evil, these two were more prominent players.
One resembled a 17th century French aristocrat and it was obvious why he was in the service of demonic forces. Its been said that “pride is the master sin of the devil” and it was all too apparent in this character. Supremely proud and arrogant he bore a strong resemblance to the character of Count Dracula played by Gary Oldham in the 1992 film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, particularly in the initial part of the movie set in Transylvania.
Although again it must be emphasised that this was not the way he appeared physically so much as the way he conveyed himself emotionally. Emotions are a powerful force, a fact that becomes all too obvious in the ether.
Meanwhile his assistant/acolyte/pupil/servant was a black woman who one could easily imagine had been a voodoo sorceress in life: exactly the sort who would sacrifice children for their body parts.
Interestingly enough, in describing these two characters to a respected mentor he knew immediately who they were and even their names. Apparently esoteric Christian researcher and teacher Rudolph Steiner spoke of them in lectures nearly a hundred years ago.
Still, I didn’t know that at the time. I was simply aware of these characters on the very fringes of my awareness. Like sensing the lingering aroma of a previous occupant on entering an empty room or briefly hearing distant voices carried by the wind.
Initially they kept their distance and just watched, no doubt waiting for me to expose a weak point they could exploit. But also I suspect because they didn’t want to alert me to their presence.
Looking back on the encounter and having discussed it with others more knowledgeable than myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that the aristocratic figure may even play a role in the affairs of this world. Acting as a sort of intermediary between diabolical powers in the next world and their adherents in this one.
So what was he doing in St Petersburg? After all, you can easily imagine such a figure in London or Washington but what brought him to St Petersburg?
A clue to that may lie in Russian folklore.
No one knows precisely when it originated but there has long been speculation over an ancient Russian story, part fable and part prophecy, which tells of three great Empires. The first two may have already come and gone but the final and mightiest may emerge soon to play a pivotal role in humanity’s destiny.